‘The Stealers of Saiph’
Written by Nigel Robinson, Directed by Lisa Bowerman
Released June, 2009
As a lifelong Whovian, I resisted the audio format of Doctor Who for some time. It just sounded to me like a false continuation of the program. To be fair, watching Doctor Who took an amount of willing suspension of disbelief and he audios are no different. I now possess a vast library of Big Finish audio dramas that I enjoy at my leisure and can say with some authority that they are well worth the endeavor and feature some of the finest writing of the entire legacy of Who.
Creating an adventure during the Key to Time era is a challenge to say the least. Full of wit and whimsy, this was one of the more creative periods of the program and sits awkwardly between the Hinchcliffe Gothic and Graham Williams’ last year as producer when quality control flew out the polystyrene window (causing the wall to wobble). There’s a lot of opportunity here, but the risk is in getting the tome wrong or the characterization too broad, especially considering that this included the Fourth Doctor long before Tom Baker was on speaking terms with Big Finish. As such, Mary Tamm was asked to play an entire array of characters including the ostentatious Doctor Number 4.
The story is set in 1929 at a luxury hotel on the coast of Southern France. The Doctor is content to try his hand at painting but Romana is bored and dangerous close to becoming the love object of the socially awkward Tommy Creighton. The booze-distilled Madame Arcana is obsessed with the stars and seems eager to take the Doctor to her private rooms to share her research. The Doctor of course treats this as a threat on the level of his deadliest of foes. In the end, Romana is content to explore the nearby caves which house something very sinister and very alien. ‘The stars are not right!’ Madame Arcana intones through a haze of gin and she is not wrong. An alien intelligence is attempting an invasion and only the Doctor and Romana stand a chance of stopping it in time.
I had avoided Stealers from Saiph for some time as it had a lackluster reputation that perhaps is due to the fact that Tamm is the only voice talent in the entire drama (there is traditionally at least one other voice actor on hand). It had been some time since Tamm had played Romana and there is more than a little awkwardness in her depiction of the Doctor. However, it is still a ripping yarn that shares a few traits with Stones of Blood in its terrestrial setting and eccentric female guest characters. The monster itself, a protoplasmic ooze that lurks in the cave, is an excellent monster and I can easily imagine it realized on the screen.
In the end, this story excels at recapturing a beloved period of Doctor Who with one of its many lovely ladies, sadly no longer with us. I had partly chosen this story as a stop gap while I awaited the arrival of the new Fourth Doctor adventures that also feature Mary Tamm and it fit perfectly.
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